Thursday, July 20, 2017

How To Become "Parent Whisperer"

I watched a documentary recently that inspired me. It's called "Buck." This man is a horse trainer/philosopher/life coach on whose work the movie "The Horse Whisperer" is based. I learned more from this man in one hour and twenty three minutes than from my graduate school training. So much for school. There are some people who have an amazing ability to read themselves, the people they work with, and yes horses! Buck is such a person. You watch him take a frisky, headstrong, "you aren't the boss of me" kind of horse (substitute teen for horse) and work with him to become a horse who becomes open to a relationship where there is a mutual respect for authority. There is much talk about "breaking a horse" which Buck rejects. In that relationship there is an absence of understanding and respect, and instead there is fear and control.

In the film, Buck often compares the process of training a horse to parenting a child. Both require an ability to stay calm in the face of  out of control emotion,  (at least your teen can't literally bite your head off) and an ability to understand the underlying issues that are driving behavior. Is the horse/teen bucking out of fear of what's to come, or because they like their freedom and don't want to be controlled. This is important to know. Though the end goal (getting the saddle on/getting your teen to follow-through on whatever) is the same, the process by which you get there will be different. There is nothing more important in a relationship than being understood, whether animal or human. Here are some lessons from Buck I learned about understanding from this film.
  • Don't be overly critical with the horse, they will just shut down.  Teens are the same way way. Maybe your teen comes home with a bad test result. How you respond to that information can make a huge difference in a future outcome. If you say: "Well, if you had studied harder, and not wasted so much time, you would have done better," feeling criticized they will deny, get angry and shut down. If you ask them how they might study differently the next time, you might open a discussion about study habits.
  • Respect isn't fear, respect is acceptance. You can punish, yell and metaphorically try to whip your horse/teen into shape, but that will not change behavior. 
  •  Build on pride, make him feel good about himself. Watching Buck work with these enormous headstrong animals is amazing. Rather than expending his own energy being negative, he would look for even the small positive gains the horse was making and pet and talk sweetly and reinforce movement in the right direction. If only a horse could smile! 
  • I'm not mad at the horse when they don't do what I want. I have to control my emotions. Yelling does not help a situation. Save the emotion for the serious stuff. Keeping your own emotions in check during a heated situation is what commands respect.
  • Blessed are the flexible as they will not get bent out of shape. There are always more than one way to reach a goal. It's not a choice to do it, just how to do it. My way or the highway encourages rebellion.
  • There is a difference between a firm hand and a hard hand. This was one of the most amazing parts of this film to watch. When he wanted to get the horse to move in a particular way he didn't yank, he used a gentle, consistent pressure until the horse "got it". "Do it cause I said so" is a hard hand,  "I need or would like you to'" is a firm hand.
  • Whenever you're ready. I'll just wait. This guy had the patience of a saint. He had clear goals, he knew what he wanted from the horse, but never got into a power struggle. When the horse understood that he could come to it on his own time, he did. Power struggles delay, patience will pay. 
There is no one that knows your kid better than you. Reading cues from their body language, their tone of voice, their energy levels, how they sleep, how they eat, these things are all clues as to what is going on with your teen. Become an expert on "reading" your teen. If you get a sense that something is going with them, "get" that this is probably not the time to get into an argument about cleaning their room or doing their homework. Most likely this will end up with someone slamming a door in someone's face.

This ability to "read" a horse is what makes Buck so successful at what he does. Be your own parent whisperer!. And watch this movie, it is life changing.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Lies Of Omission: "Oh I Didn't Think I Had To Tell You That!"

Sometimes people lie outright, and sometimes they just don't tell you the whole story. Teens do that too. Why do teens lie? Because from their point of view, they have to. How else can you do what you want to do? The problem is that teens get so used to giving parents half a story out of habit, that they don't give their parents a chance to even say yes, which in many situations they actually might have. But instead they tell the half a story, and because teens are impulsive and live in the moment, they often get caught, and now parents have to deal with a lying issue.

Here are a few cases in point: A thirteen year old girl lives near her town's small downtown area where kids often meet up for pizza or an ice cream. She had her parents drop her off at a school nearby where she told them she was going to a sports event. Apparently, she met up with a few friends there, and they left to walk into town to meet "the boys." (which by the way was the real plan) When the mom called the parent who was supposed to pick up the girls, he told her his daughter had never gone to the school, but he dropped her off in town and that's where he was picking the girls up at the appointed hour. What a silly lie. When confronted by the mom, the girl said she assumed her mom would have said no to letting her walk around town. And she said, I did go to the game (even though it was for 5 seconds) so I didn't lie, I just didn't tell you I was going into town.  Oy vey!!!

Another story. a 15 year old girl who lives 30 minutes by train outside of New York City tells her parents she is going to sleep over so and so's house. Parents drop her off there. Parents are home, all is well. She finds out from a friend who was riding the train back from the city at 10 PM that she saw her daughter on the train. Whaaaatttt! The mother exclaimed, her daughter knows that she is not allowed to go into the city without adult supervision. Apparently the sleepover house parent who drove the girls  to the train station and picked the girls up there at 10:30 PM never questioned this girl as to whether her parents had given her permission to go into the city at night on the train, and the girl never said anything about it and went on her merry way with her friend on their adventure.

In both cases, the girls never gave their parents a chance to even discuss their desires, and now they have to deal with the consequences of lying... That's the teen "feeling" brain for you. The impulsive need to go and do is so strong that it belies rational thinking. And that is the point. Your teen needs to know that you won't always be the parent of NO. Sometimes as parents we do get into the knee jerk reaction NO's because your teen demands rather than asks, and that pisses you off, or catches you when you are busy, and just to shoo the issue away you say NO, or they have asked permission for a similar thing and you have said NO, so now they know not to ask but just do.

In both of those cases there was room for a non-no answer. It is true that in the past these parents had said no to similar requests, and the girls felt they had no other choice. Your job is to help you kids come up with a plan that could possible make it a yes. For the NYC girl a compromise might have been reached. " I get you really want to go into the city alone with your friends. I don't feel safe having you go in at night, but you could go late afternoon, and take a train home at 7:30 or 8 and still have time to get dinner and walk around in the early evening. I'm guessing that would have been an OK compromise.  In the walking into town case, the girl knew the mom was uncomfortable with the kids rambling around town. Mom and daughter could have come up together will a plan that would have made mom comfortable.

Your job is to say to your kids: "Give us a chance. Maybe we can find a way to make it happen for you that feels good to both of us. Don't give us that chance and you might get caught in your lie, and end up with a consequence that is unpleasant. I know we sometimes say no without thinking, and we will work on that so you don't need to lie."

Go back to my blog on the A+ parent for an example of how well this can work. Remember helping you kids to come up with a plan that works for both of you is so much better and more pleasant than sitting home with a grounded teen. Nobody wants to do that!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Power Of Being Understood And Forgiveness

I was thinking about this topic the other day, and was reminded of two personal experiences that reiterated to me the power of understanding and forgiveness. One experience was for me to ask for forgiveness, and the other, looking from someone else to understand me.

Some years back I received an email from someone in my past. In it she expressed a need for closure on an incident that occurred between the two of us many years ago. Unfortunately, my own memory about the issue was very fuzzy, but really it didn't matter what I did or did not remember because her feelings were very much in the present. I was devastated that something I had done, even though unintentionally, had caused her such pain. I apologized, with respect for what she was feeling, and for my own need to make amends. It is so hard to accept sometimes our own culpability in bringing on pain in people we care about. In fact often we are unaware that something we have said or done has hurt someone. So, when confronted and surprised by someone we have hurt we get defensive, and combative, rather than apologetic and understanding. In my example, this person had her experience and her feelings, that is a simple truth that I had to acknowledge and respect. Her gift to me was accepting my apology, and thanking me for my lack of defensiveness, and understanding her need to get closure and move on.

People are not perfect. We screw up. We screw up with our friends, our partners, and yes, we screw up with our kids. When you own your mistakes, and apologize to your kids, you show them respect. They will be able to move on. When you get defensive and evasive even when you know it's on you to take responsibility for your actions, your kids become disrespectful, and then feel acutely a double standard of "do as I say, not as I do."

The second experience I had, illustrates this point. I felt a colleague had crossed a professional boundary. I agonized for a week about whether to share my feelings about this incident. But when I could see that it was interfering with our relationship,  and my desire to avoid her, I decided to talk with her about it. I was expecting a simple "Oh my god, I am so sorry, I didn't even realize, I'm glad you told me so I can do better the next time. "Instead, I got a "face". You know that face, kind of all scrunched up, and disdainful. No apology, no thanks for letting me know, just the feeling that I was the crazy one! Even if I was the crazy one (which by the way I wasn't) giving me that gift of understanding would have cleared it up in a second. Like I said nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes.  How can we change if we don't know what those mistakes are, take responsibility for them and move on.

The power of understanding, and all the "I get It" scripts I feed you in these blogs I hope pave the way to help you accept, respect and move on in your relationships. Truly, it's powerful stuff.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

You're Not Allowed To Talk To My Friends!

When my daughter was a freshman in college she had her first real boyfriend. My husband and I were apoplectic to meet him. So on a sunny Saturday we drove up to campus to take them to dinner. Because my husband and I have big mouths, my daughter was beyond terrified of what might come out of them.  So prior to the actual meeting we were given very strict guidelines of what we were allowed and not allowed to ask. In our own defense we continued to comfort and placate her with a "honey we would never embarrass you. Secretly though, my hubby and I thought the whole issue hilarious and the night before our trip for the big "meeting" we developed our list of questions. None of which we were ever going to ask, but just as a fun thing to show our daughter and all have a good laugh over! Which by the way we did, especially when our daughter chose to read them out loud at dinner!

Questions included: How much money do you parents make? What are your intentions with our daughter? What is your future profession?  There were many more but since this occurred many years ago and as an "older person" the memory is not so good!!

This is a universal plight of teens. Please Don't Embarrass me. So I say to you parents, rather than asking to many specific questions of your teens friends, just saying things like, Hey what's up? Or love the outfit? Please avoid questions like: So what's your college list? or How is school going? or anything that sounds too personal. When teens don't feel your desperation to be included in the conversation, they will talk, and over time may look forward to sharing parts of themselves that maybe they don't share with their own parents. But remember, these are your teens' friendships and relationships and they don't won't you butting in unless you're invited.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Some Great Summer Movies To Watch With Your Teen

One of the best parts of summer is....time. There is just more of it. During the school year there is no extra time. Pretty much every minute is accounted for including weekends. In the summer there are weird pockets of time that you might actually find you and your teen in the house, at the same time, with nothing much to do. Take advantage of them. Maybe its at 11 AM when they are just rising from a late night, but are free till 4 or 5 when they are going to hook back up with their buddies. Or maybe all their friends are away for the same weekend, and they are hanging around the house. Here are some movies that are on demand or on netflix that are fun to watch, and might even generate some fun conversation.

First Position: I just watched this last night. Its a documentary about a world class ballet competition. Young dancers compete for scholarships for elite ballet companies. They follow 4 teens as they prepare for this competition. I LOVED it. Great examples of kids with passions and how they live their life. If you have a dancing teen, this is a must watch.

American Teen:  this is an amazing documentary that follows a group of high school seniors for their whole last year at a large midwestern high school. Every teen will find themselves represented, the social butterfly, the jock, the artsy kid, and the kid who doesn't fit in. Great film. My college students go crazy for this film every semester.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower: Feature film about a group of kids who aren't part of a "popular crowd" but form an anti-popular crowd. Great story about friendship, and relationships. I love it!

Ferris Beuller's Day Off: Teens play hooky, hilarity ensues. A classic...you must have seen it!!

Dead Poets Society: Robin Williams tour de force performance as the teacher you wish you had in high school who really gets you!  A great movie about finding yourself, separating from parents, dealing with disappointment.

The Way Way Back: I LOVED this movie about a family off to their summer rental, after a parent's divorce. Teen gets his first job and taste of independence. This movie is funny, sweet, and meaningful!

Moonrise Kingdom: Quirky independent movie about two preteens, fed up with "the grownups" take off on an adventure.

Stand by Me: 3 young teens hanging in the summer have an adventure they never anticipated. A classic!

Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Can't Buy Me Love: These are fun 80's teen movies that your kids have probably not seen, but are so much fun to watch. The hair may be big, and the shoulder pads huge but the teen issues are still the same. Would be really fun to introduce these to your kids

Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist: full disclosure, my daughter is one of the stars. She plays the drunk best friend caroline. This is a really sweet movie with Michael Cera. Kat Dennings and my daughter about friendship, relationships and has great music. though my daughter does play a drunk teen, it is not glorified at all. You'll see what I mean if you watch the movie.

Enjoy!

For phone or in-person parent coaching call me at 781-910-1770.  A single session can help you go from crisis to calm!

Invite me to come and speak at your school, at your company or for your community group. Have Joani will travel!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Summer Survival Tips

Yay...summer is here. Some of your teens may be shipped out to various camps, programs, far-away islands, and you will all be enjoying a little break from the trials and tribulations of daily teen life. However, many of you are looking at 8 weeks of "what are you going to do all day?" conversations. If you do not have a teen who has found a job, internship or volunteer gig, here are some ideas on how to keep your teen from turning into a video gaming, jersey shore watching, shopaholic, comatose during the day, but strangely energized come sundown person.

1. All teens need money to survive during the summer. Those nightly jaunts into town, to the mall, or out to dinner with friends all cost money. Pair money to gym workouts, book reading. As in, "I get you need money when you go out with your friends. Here is the deal, you can earn money for your hangs by getting off the couch. Every time you hit the gym, you earn some cash. When I see you reading for an hour, you get some cash. When you actually do some stuff around the house, ie laundry, cleaning your room, making your bed etc, you get some cash. Should you choose to just sit around the house all  day, no cash. Of course you can always find a job, internship, volunteer something,which I would love to help you with, but I cannot support you being on the computer, facebooking, playing video games and watching tv all day. That's the deal."

2. For those of you who have video game addicts. These guys are looking at the summer as an orgy of game playing. If they are not involved in any activities, jobs, etc you are looking at the potential of your son playing for 12 hours a day. NOT GOOD!!! Get a device for your device that can be programmed for finite amount of use. Your teen can earn video game play by exchanging other activity participation. Like above, book reading, exercise, internship, lawn work, be creative. But DO NOT let your teen play video games all day and night. Come September, you will have a full-fledged addict!

3. Summertime does mean more free time with friends. Weather is warm, outdoor partying is the preferred option. Make sure you continue to talk about safety with drug and alcohol use, and sex. There is just more opportunity to participate in all of it. And now that weekday nights are free and clear from homework obligations, there is that much more to fill the days and nights. Use this system to help set expectations that are mutually agreeable. It will make for a much nicer summer for all.

A four question example:

Teen asks: "What time do I have to be home tonight?
Parent asks: What time do you think you should be home?

Kid states a time. Lets say 11:00 PM
Parent asks: What do you think I will be worried about if I say yes to 11. This is your teen's opportunity to say out loud any of the dangers that in fact you do worry about.

Parent asks: Yes those issues do worry me, what is your plan to make me feel OK, that you will stay safe?
Teen needs to offer up a plan for safety around drugs and alcohol and other safety issues curfew times, keeping you in the loop throughout the night etc.  that hopefully he/she stated in the worry question.

Parent asks: What will the consequence be if you don't follow through on your plan?
Teen needs to put a consequence in place so that if he/she fails to follow though on the plan, a consequence is ready to go.

Engaging your teen in this process of taking responsibility for behavior makes for a calmer summer. They want more freedom, and you are giving them the opportunity to take ownership. This does not in anyway give them carte blanche to go and do whatever they want. Sometimes the plan is just not good enough, perhaps it is too unsafe, or just not practical. No will still mean no when you need it to.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Teen Temper Tantrums: It's just noise!

Remember the terrible twos and threes, and maybe even fours. You're in a crowded supermarket, your then toddler has asked for the 10 millionth time for candy, and you have said for the 10 millionth time NO.  And then you hear your toddler take a deep breath, and with all their little might, they explode with screams, kicks, fall down on the floor, and start flailing like a maniac. You, feeling like every pair of supermarket eyes are upon you, are seized with humiliation. Oh why oh why did you have to do this now!!! So you buy the candy, or you leave your cart of items, even though that means leaving your laundry detergent meant for your gathering storm of dirty clothes, tonights dinner, lunch and snack items for tomorrow's meals, you pick up your kid and you are out of there!!!!!

Your toddler outgrows their tantrums, and for a while life is peaceful-ish. Then come the terrible teens!!! Full blown tantrums return. It's not about candy now!!! It's about cellphones, and apps, and money for clothes, and absolutely "have to have" whatever. It's about curfews, and sleepovers, and cars and school, and attitude and friends, and time and family and well, just about everything. Many parents I work with are so afraid of the "tantrum" that they cave worried that their teen will get out of control, and do....something! But here's the thing. It's just noise, It's the same noise they bellowed at two. It's actually the same issue...It's all about me!!! Egocentric thinking was the culprit then, and it is the culprit now. At two their little brain couldn't understand that their perspective was not the only one at play. I want what I want when I want it!!!! And...wait for it.... neither does your teen. That emotional brain fires up faster than you can say NO. And when the world stops revolving around their needs and desires...fireworks!

Your job is to develop a tolerance for noise. There it is, plain and simple. Say what you need to say, and then stop talking. Your teen's anger and frustration will burn itself out, as long as you don't give it fuel!  The article below is about an amazing dad who let his toddler burn herself out, in public, on display, for an attentive supermarket audience. His message is universal for parents of kids of all ages.  Truthfully, everybody is in the same boat, whether with a toddler or a teen. We can be a community of understanding.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/actors-facebook-post-offers-a-big-lesson-about-toddler-tantrums_us_595111f3e4b05c37bb77d13b?ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000041